Uncovering the Deep Structure of Schooling
Barbara Benham Tye
Tye devotes most of this book to identifying elements of what she terms the
“deep structure” of schooling. By
this, she means the cultural aspects of schooling in
the author freely notes, much of this point has been made by other authors.
For those unfamiliar with this idea, this book is a good summary, with
citations to other sources.
I found most interesting the last
chapter on the types of change she sees as possible, and the method for
achieving change. First, she argues
that “school systems” are not the proper focus for change.
The administrative hierarchy of school systems is basically bureaucratic,
while the schools are “loosley coupled”, both to that hierarchy and
internally. Thus, even if it were
possible to implement “change programs” effectively in a bureaucracy (an
idea that has lost much credibility in the business world in recent years), it
has not and cannot work.
At the school level, she again cautions against taking on the “deep
structure” elements, suggesting as an alternative a focus on process and
substantive goals that do not impinge on the deep structure.
She asserts that major improvement in student learning and experience of
schooling, teacher morale, and public support are possible from addressing other
areas. The testimony of the
great schools that exist in significant numbers across the country supports her.
Dr. Tye suggests that a broad,
on-going, and thoughtful conversation among teachers, students, parents,
administrators, board members and other members of the community must surround
any change efforts. She notes that
successful efforts have focused on a very few goals and have adopted generous
timelines for change. Further, she
notes that where such efforts end up often differs from what might have
originally been contemplated. She
also suggests that such efforts start with identification of the school’s
strengths, then build on those. (See
Now, Discover Your Strengths for the
personal of this approach.) Note how
this analysis supports the view of school improvement efforts as “wicked
According to the author, feasible
areas for change include process and substantive goals.
I would add capacity goals. She
identifies process goals as those addressed to the manner in which the faculty
and leadership in a school work together. As
examples, she suggests that a school might focus on problem solving, open
communication, conflict resolution, shared decision making, goal setting, or
shared leadership. Each of these
would require the development of new skills, behaviors, patterns of interaction,
and mechanisms by the faculty and leadership.
She also thinks “substantive
change” is possible, although her focus here does not seem to be much on
student learning. She lists improved
connections with the community, full-service social services through cooperation
with other agencies, development of a “teacher-advisor” program, and perhaps
some curriculum efforts (within state frameworks) as possibilities.
She mentioned one school that implemented and kept a “no fail”
grading system where students would not be issued a grade until they had
achieved at least a “C”. Many of
her examples deal more with the high school level than lower grades.
There is a role for administrators in
Dr. Tye’s view: supporting and
protecting school-level efforts to improve.
She does not go into much detail here, but allow me.
not “dictating”, “training”,
“rolling out”, “enforcing”, etc., etc., etc.
Leadership must come from the schools.
Central office personnel (and school boards), can help create a climate
of acceptance for such efforts, including their tentativeness, mutations during
implementation, lack of 100% support by all parties, and the general messiness
of the process. (In other words,
board, or superintendents, who pick at every last effort that doesn’t look
just as they expect will kill the efforts altogether!)
Administrative leadership and school
boards can also support such change through hiring, professional development
programs, providing and protecting time, promoting supportive principals,
employing technology strategically (to improve the networking and communication
efforts of teachers, for example). I
would suggest they can also establish access to leaders in areas such as
cognitive psychology, develop internal process and substantive experts for the
support of schools, etc.
Finally, I would suggest one area in
addition to process and substance: capacity.
Specifically, I am thinking of the capacity of teachers and principals to
begin, wrestle with, and bring change efforts to fruition.
Optimism, with its inherent support for action is one obvious area.
Tools to make the process more efficient (mind mapping or
for example) are another productive area for central office support.
Central support also makes sense for such things as school climate or
culture surveys, cooperative test development, and an array of training
opportunities for selection by teachers, teacher teams, and even entire
faculties. Finally, the central
administration ca assist in the development of more functional, supportive
school cultures through appropriate mechanisms, processes, and behavior
Ultimately, this book supports
cautions optimism. Hear, hear!